The urban context first, for this church is set as many
City churches must have been in the years before the
Blitz. From the west, the tower stands in the slow curve
of Lovat Lane, leading from Cheapside down to Eliot's
erstwhile fishmen of Billingsgate lounging at noon.
It is easy to imagine the precocious Betjeman wandering
down the lane as a schoolboy, summoned by the evensong
bells to the twilit delights of the Book of Common
Prayer. The east end of the church is flush in the street
line of the road which takes its name from the church,
and the name itself is writ large below the east window.
A doorway under a portico with its skull and crossed
bones leads through to the small burial ground.
St Mary at Hill was once one of the least
spoiled of the City churches, and the only one to survive
the Blitz with a full set of box pews intact. Worship
here was a last taste of how the City churches were
before the German bombs changed the City forever. And
then in 1988 there was an arson attack which destroyed
the ceiling. The furnishings mostly survived, and were
placed in store while the roof and ceiling were restored.
In 1998, Simon Bradley in the revised Pevsner
lamented that most of the notable woodwork remains in
store. Its full restoration is an urgent priority.
Almost twenty years on this still has not happened, and
you step into a great open space which feels much larger
than it actually is. The missing furnishings were all of
a piece, dating from Wren's rebuilding of 1670-74,
refurbished and added to in 1848 by W Gibbs Rogers who
Pevsner complimented as his work could hardly be
distinguished from the original. I have no idea why they
have not been returned. Does someone know? Perhaps they
will contact me and tell me.
The west screen is still in
situ, there are some good glass roundels which
remember the other churches which once stood in the
modern parish, and the great chandelier has no
distractions from its glory. But otherwise this is an
empty shell, the skeleton of a church waiting for its
flesh, blood and soul to be restored to it.
Simon Knott, December 2015
location: Lovat Lane 4/044
status: working parish church
access: open Monday to Friday, services Sunday
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